- CMS is updating its online comparison shopping tool for Medicare coverage, including Medicare Advantage and Part D plans, for the first time in a decade, responding to criticism from stakeholders that call it difficult to use and incomplete.
- Using the new Medicare Plan Finder, beneficiaries can now compare pricing between different plans on desktop, smartphone or tablet, directly compare plans across traditional Medicare or MA side-by-side and build a list of their personal drugs to find Part D coverage.
- It's unlikely to have a material impact on other coverage comparison sites like eHealth, according to RBC Capital Markets. "While the government's mobile user interface, which allows customers to get plan prices, is indeed better, the enrollment tool is largely unchanged," analysts said Tuesday, noting beneficiaries still get sent directly to the payer for enrollment.
Medicare Plan Finder is the most used tool on Medicare.gov, according to CMS. Medicare.gov is the online portal where seniors aged 65 and older sign up for the subsidized government insurance.
And premiums across MA and Part D prescription drug plans have generally fallen over the past couple of years, making those programs an even more tempting coverage option for America's increasing number of elderly. More than 60 million seniors are currently covered by Medicare.
The new Plan Finder site will be available alongside the older version through September so that users can get used to the new version.
The first iteration of the tool has been criticized by myriad stakeholder groups since its 1998 launch, including the Government Accountability Office, the National Council on Aging and the Clear Choices Campaign. The GAO report specifically found that almost three-fourths of beneficiaries had difficulty using the tool due to design flaws, like no clear instructions on how to use the site, making users go to multiple pages to access plan details and containing complex healthcare jargon.
CMS conducted consumer testing and talked with plan stakeholders to identify problems with the old version. The agency clarified the cost-saving benefits of low-income subsidies for eligible users, added the ability for consumers to input their claims data to build drug lists and brought the Plan Finder mobile.
Last year, roughly a quarter of Medicare beneficiaries used the Plan Finder on mobile devices, up 40% from 2017.
The facelift is part of an ongoing CMS push to digitize and simplify the Medicare plan choice process for seniors. The initiative called eMedicare was launched late last year.
Still, the White House budget for 2019 proposed slashing Medicare funding by $845 billion over the next decade. The New York Times has reported that President Donald Trump is considering cutting funds for the program in his second term to pare down the deficit.
The Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, which finances Medicare Part A, is forecast to run out by 2026, according to the Medicare Board of Trustees. The outlook is a bit more positive for the Medicare Part B and Part D funds, the Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Fund.
CMS said it will keep streamlining consumer options for choosing coverage until open enrollment starts Oct. 15.